The Collegian
Friday, February 23, 2024

Food review: Lehja, Richmond's modern Indian cuisine

<p>Baweja's restaurant, Lehja, located at Short Pump Town Center</p>

Baweja's restaurant, Lehja, located at Short Pump Town Center

“Start with the Chaat,” Sandeep “Sunny” Baweja told me at the end of our interview back in early September. 

I had just asked him what he would recommend to a first-time taster of his restaurant, Lehja-Indian Delicious.

His modern Indian restaurant in the center of Short Pump Town Center serves traditional and popular dishes with a contemporary approach, according to the restaurant’s website.

“And if you want to stay very simple in the beginning, you can do a classic butter chicken,” Baweja said. “If you're vegetarian, saag paneer, and if you eat shrimp, the shrimp and chicken zafrani.” 

Of course, our interview wasn’t just about the food. 

It started with Baweja sharing the unique story of Lehja, which he opened in April 2010, a few years after moving to America from India.

He was based in Hampton Roads in southeastern Virginia when he first came to the country. But the lively community in nearby Richmond made Baweja shift his sights on this city as the future location of his restaurant, he said. 

“[Lehja is] a perfect blend of what we are now and where we come from,” Baweja said. 

Baweja didn’t get his start as a chef. He was initially interested in joining the business world. 

“I could have easily had an easy life being an executive, but I chose a different path,” he said. “That makes me happy; eating makes me happy.” 

Baweja shared more about his love for food on Sept. 14, 2023, during his guest appearance on the live recording podcast “Full Disclosure” at the Robins School of Business.

At the end of the event, attendees got to taste-test a few menu items featured at Lehja. I enjoyed trying the lotus root-sweet potato tikki, a savory appetizer with date chutney and lotus chips, a splendid combination of rich and spicy flavors.

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 That first taste left me craving more. 

On a Sunday afternoon in late October, I finally had the opportunity to try Lehja fully (alongside my parents). 

I’d traveled and explored Short Pump a few times, yet I had never noticed Lehja.

From outside, Lejha looked a bit drab. It was a Sunday afternoon with hardly anyone there, which didn’t make walking inside appetizing for me. 

Inside, however, the restaurant was beautiful. It was elegantly decorated with perfect mood lighting, a lavish wine cabinet and overall exuded that high-class feel: the type of place to wear your nice sweater. 

Not too long after being seated, Baweja greeted us at our table; one can’t help but feel special when the owner personally greets them.

 So, the food: appetizers first.

I started with the Chaat du Jour ($11). It was texturally delightful but flavor-wise a bit bland. 

Then came the garlic naan ($5), which was flaky, buttery and delicious, everything naan should be. 

For the main course, I ordered as advised: Butter Chicken ($23), Saag Paneer ($18) and Shrimp-Chicken Zafrani ($28). Lehja’s menu is sizable and diverse. If not for Baweja’s recommendations, my parents and I would have spent half an hour deciding from all they offered. 

When you order, the waiters ask what spice level you’d like your food from a scale of one to five. Despite my extremely low spice tolerance, I picked three for each dish in the name of equity. 

However, the food wasn’t as fiery as I anticipated. Though I breathed a sigh of relief, someone who enjoys spice should likely go for five. 

The Butter Chicken was filling and flavor-infused. Interestingly, it tasted more sweet than spicy but lacked none of its buttery goodness. 

The Saag Paneer, a classic vegetarian side dish of stewed spinach and fried paneer cheese, featured the best-cooked tofu I’ve tasted. However, it wasn’t the richest out of the other dishes.

The Shrimp-Chicken Zafrani was creamy, tender and vibrant. It was my mom’s favorite dish that day. 

The meal concluded with the Chocolate Piativo Samosa ($12). 

My sweet tooth was only semi-satisfied by the crunchy and slightly bitter dessert; It lacked the sugariness I desired, yet the filling was still smooth and velvety.  

I’m not a food expert, so my culinary palette is only as extensive as the number of food adjectives I can think of. That said, I can confidently report that my experience at Lehja was enjoyable. 

During our interview, Baweja shared with me what makes a restaurant like Lehja so great: excellent service, excellent decor and, above all, excellent food.

Richmond has an abundance of great Indian spots, so why choose Lehja? 

Lehja may not be the place for someone looking for homestyle favorites, but it certainly is the place for someone looking to explore. 

I truly believe the food lover would delight in Lehja. It’s a unique experience, with an even more unique array of flavors and possibilities, which, for some foodgoers, is half the fun. 

Despite not being in love with all the dishes we ordered, I won’t write Lehja off completely, and neither should you. There’s still so much more to explore and discover at Lehja. 

Contact opinions write Grace Randolph at grace.randolph@richmond.edu.

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